Chunking of items, with further organization of the chunks, has long been supposed to play a significant role in verbal learning. Spontaneous chunking in natural free recall learning is demonstrated directly by identifying clusters of items that recur together in different retrieval attempts, demarcated by different items or clusters. Trial-by-trial delineation of actual chunks and their organization in typical individual learning protocols demonstrates that items are spontaneously clustered into many small recurrent chunks, which remain intact when they are juxtaposed in higher-order organization of the basic chunks. Identification of the actual chunks in each retrieval permits trial-by-trial analysis of organization during verbal learning in terms of both basic clustering and higher-order organization of recurrent, well-defined clusters. Identification of chunking also allows analysis of the increasing rate of retrieval during learning in terms of individual items, items within chunks, and chunks.
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